T-cells from common cold coronaviruses can provide protection against COVID-19, an Imperial College London study has found. Reuters reports on the findings, which were published in Nature.
Daily Sceptic –
The study, which began in September 2020, looked at levels of cross-reactive T-cells generated by previous common colds in 52 household contacts of positive COVID-19 cases shortly after exposure, to see if they went on to develop infection.
It found that the 26 who did not develop infection had significantly higher levels of those T-cells than people who did get infected. Imperial did not say how long protection from the T-cells would last.
“We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection,” study author Dr Rhia Kundu said.
The researchers suggest vaccines based on imitating the internal virus proteins that T-cells target may be more resilient to mutations and new variants as those proteins, unlike the spike protein targeted by the current vaccines, “mutate much less”.
Cross-immunity to SARS-CoV-2 from other coronaviruses has been proposed since early on in the pandemic as an important element in reaching herd immunity and endemicity (for example, it was mentioned in this Scientist article from March 2020), and became a particular focus of interest in the autumn of 2020 as evidence of it accumulated (see here, here and here). It’s good to have further confirmation of this from Imperial (and also recently from UCL), but it has to be said it’s pretty late to the party, and it’s not clear why a study which began in September 2020 during a public health
emergency has taken 16 months to report, particularly when vaccines were brought to market in 10 months. The emphasis of the researchers is on the potential usefulness of the findings for developing new and more resilient vaccines, which contains a tacit admission that the existing vaccines are failing, but also leaves one wondering whether the research has only been published now that it is useful for making new pharmaceutical products. It might be added that the studies on the efficacy of generic off-label medicines against Covid are taking an awfully long time to report.
As Dr. Mike Yeadon explained in his October 2020 piece for the Daily Sceptic, “What SAGE Has Got Wrong“, the assumption of a lack of pre-existing immunity and hence universal susceptibility was one of the great errors made by Government advisers throughout the pandemic and which led to an over-reaction that continues to this day. Now that Imperial researchers have acknowledged the existence of prior immunity, will Neil Ferguson’s modelling team update its assumptions?
At the start it was constantly repeated that we have no immunity to this virus, which supposedly made it much more deadly. For example, on January 24th 2020, at a point when there were only 17 deaths reported globally, the Daily Mail quoted Oxford’s Professor Peter Horby saying: “Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them. Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum. But it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as 2%. … Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.”
The Mail, like other outlets, was already by then routinely referring to the virus as a “killer infection” and “deadly disease”, and the WHO had just commended China for implementing the first lockdown in Wuhan. Is it any wonder there was hysteria? In that light, it’s remarkable the British Government stuck to the pandemic plan as long as it did. We often blame Neil Ferguson’s modelling, published on March 16th 2020, for precipitating a shift in Government policy, but it can be easy to forget that prior to that the WHO itself (among many others) had already repeatedly criticised the Government for refusing to lock down and for talking about herd immunity.
Imperial Finally Acknowledges Pre-Existing Immunity to COVID-19. What Took It So Long?